Reebok is one of the first few brands that come to mind when someone says "sports shoes". The sportswear mega-giant definitely didn’t enjoy all this fame, fortune, and glory right from day one. We’re going to take a step back to travel back in time to trace the company’s humble beginnings and its journey to become one of the most recognized international brands.
Reebok started its journey back in 1890, when Joseph William Foster a sports enthusiast in Bolton, England had an innovative idea of adding spikes to sports shoes. Recognizing the massive untapped potential of the sportswear industry he founded the JW Foster and Sons Incorporated 5 years later. The company started manufacturing world class shoes which quickly became popular among world class athletes. Their shoes were so good that they were even adopted by 1924 British running team participating in the Olympics.
When we think about it, JW Foster and Sons Incorporated doesn’t really inspire a lot of assurance. To truly be a global player the company had to change the name into something that was lively and cool. The two grandsons of JW Foster, Joe and Jeff understood this predicament and were searching for a new name. They stumbled upon the name "rhebok” in a South African dictionary which basically described a type of antelope or gazelle that roamed the African continent. Inspired by the word, they changed the name of the company to "Reebok" in 1958.
Before the 80s, Reebok was mainly restricted to the UK market. To truly be one of the top sports manufacturing brands in the world, the company had to expand into the United States. They got a break in 1979, when Paul Fireman an American Businessman showed interest in distributing the brand in United States. Paul spotted the brand in a sneaker trade show in Chicago and was impressed by the level of customization and quality of the Reebok shoes. Paul negotiated a deal with the company and encouraged them to open a new division called the Reebok USA Ltd to specifically cater to the lucrative US market. This was a decision Reebok would never regret and was undoubtedly one of the major turning points in the company’s history.
After Fireman became the sole distributor in the United States, he wasted no time and launched 3 Reebok shoes and priced them at $60 a pair. Paying $60 for a pair of shoes was big deal back in the day but that didn’t stop the shoes from becoming instant hits. Within 2 years of its introduction, Reebok’s sale in the United States creeped up to $1.5million. Their break into the US market helped them shift gears and they were now soaring past competitions to become a manufacturing giant.
Following up their new found success in the US market with another innovative move that helped skyrocket their sales, Reebok caught their competitors completely off guard by introducing Reebok Freestyle, a range of sports shoes specially made for women. This was like pressing the nitrous boost button as it drove the sales past $13 million mark the next year.
Reebok Freestyle Vintage Pack
Accepting the vast popularity of basketball in the United States, Reebok began licensing deals with NBA superstars in 1986. In an attempt to improve the performance of basketball shoes and to compete with Nike Air, a series of popular basketball shoes introduced by Nike, the company introduced the Reebok Pump series. As the name suggests, these shoes came with a unique mechanism that enabled users to inflate ankle area of the shoe.
This inflatable ankle collar helped the shoe lock around the ankle providing more support, comfort, and cushioning. Using the basketball shaped mini-pumps fitted in the tongues of the shoes, athletes were now able to adjust the inflation level according to their preference. This customizability became an instant hit among the NBA professionals. As many as 100 NBA superstars were spotted wearing the new shoes including the great Shaq O’Neal. Even though, this was a great marketing strategy which greatly boosted sales, Reebok as a company was probably not prepared for the struggles that lay ahead.
The 90s was a difficult period for Reebok as Nike outshined them in terms of sales and became the market leader. In a desperate attempt to boost sales, Reebok launched several new lines of sneakers. They signed up emerging superstar Shaq O’Neal and launched Shaq Attack which was a series of white sneakers, however it proved to be a terrible move. Teenagers, athletes, and sports enthusiasts, back then were going nuts over black sneakers and by introducing a series of white Reebok sneakers completely ignored the market trend. The fact that these white shoes came with pocket burning price tag of $130 also didn’t help Reebok’s cause. Their sales suffered immediately and they lost a whopping 20% of their market share.
Attempting to bounce back, Reebok terminated their contract with O’Neal and signed up Allen Everson luring him in with a $5million a year deal. This move played out in their favour as Reebok was finally able to boost their sales. However, to their disappointment they lost their top spot to Nike. They were now competing with adidas to retain their number 2 position.
The merger of adidas and Reebok may have come as a shock to the world, but it was kind of a clear move. According to reports, adidas paid $3.78billion in the momentous 2005 deal to make Reebok its junior.
With collaborations and endorsements with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and other celebs well under way we don’t see Reebok slowing down anytime soon.